State of the Village 2020
2019 was another busy year. For me, personally, the most important event occurred on November 5th. On that day, you again expressed your faith and trust in me and, by another overwhelming majority, returned me to office. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I repeat my pledge to you. I pledge to represent every Village resident to the best of my ability, openly and honestly, to listen to your concerns, and to act always in what I consider to be the best interests of Silver Lake as a whole. I appreciate the confidence you have shown in me, and will continue to work hard to ensure that that confidence has been well-placed. As I have often said, and as my deeds and actions hopefully show, I love this Village. I am both proud, and humbled, to be your mayor. Again, thank you for your faith in me.
The men and women you elect to Village Council are extremely important to the governance of the Village. Without them, I could accomplish little of anything. I can assure you that each member of Council takes seriously the task of representing you to the best of his or her ability, and works diligently to move the Village forward. Without Council’s involvement, without their advice and guidance, and most importantly, without their support, things in the Village would not go as smoothly and efficiently as they do.
Let me also pay tribute to the people who really make the administrative branch of this government operate so smoothly and so efficiently; those people being the Village employees. At every level, from department head to the least senior member of our various departments, be they full-time or part-time, our employees are extremely proficient in their duties. They do their jobs well, and treat all residents with compassion, respect and kindness. I have great respect for each one of them. They are the greatest, and the nicest, people I could have ever hoped for to help me run the Village.
I need also mention the Silver Lake Board of Trustees. Under the leadership of Fred Johnson, the Trustees and the Village continue to work cooperatively in all things involving the lake itself. While not under our jurisdiction, the Village realizes the importance of the lake to our well-being. We have supported efforts to maintain the lake in the past, and will continue to do what we can to help in the future. I commend the Trustees for all the good work they do.
Let’s take a look at some of the events of 2019. Starting with the Police Department. In January 2019, Jamie Norris was promoted from Police Lieutenant to Police Chief. A special committee composed of myself and three Silver Lake residents interviewed two internal candidates, Jamie Norris and Steve Justice. Both were outstandingly qualified to be Police Chief. The Village was going to be well-served no matter who was selected. It became clear, however, that the committee felt that Lt. Norris was the superior candidate. Subsequently, I recommended to Council that Jamie become the next Police Chief, and Council approved my recommendation. Jamie is still on a learning curve. He is still figuring out all that needs to be done. But I am pleased with his progress, and assure you that he is doing a commendable job as Police Chief. Jamie is a bit different from our previous Police Chief, John Conley. Whereas John was a bit of an extrovert, Jamie is more inclined to be an introvert. One of my first orders to Jamie was to get out there to be seen by all residents and learn as many names as possible. He is still working on it. If he ever crosses your path and doesn’t stop to introduce himself and learn your name, let me know.
Village finances are an important concern for all of us. You’ve read the paper, or attended some Council meetings, so you know that our water and sewer rates have gone up by about 10 percent. Is this something we wanted to do? Of course not. I pay the same bills you pay, and like increases in fees and taxes as much as you, namely, not at all. And, in case you’re curious, I can assure you that neither I nor members of Council receive any monetary benefit from this 10 percent increase. In fact, our wages have stayed the same for the last 16 years. Nor do any of our employees receive an increase in pay because of increased water and sewer rates. The simple truth is that we continue to get ever increasing sewer charges from Summit County, increases we always scrutinize, and sometimes dispute. And Cuyahoga Falls, from whom we get our water, recently raised our rates by 15 percent. To be fair, I must add that this is the first rate increase we have received from them since 2011. The water and sewer funds are enterprise funds, and it is important that they be self-sustaining. We cannot continually raid the general fund to pay these bills. As residents, both you and I must shoulder this burden. We have no other choice.
That bad news aside, I can tell you our overall financial situation is currently healthy. We continue to have a general fund balance of almost $2 million. This money can be used when unexpected expenses occur. All of our other funds have a positive cash balance, and are adequate to cover expenditures that need to be made from them. However, we have some large projects facing us in the near future, some major equipment purchases that need to be made, and a myriad of smaller things that can be, or should be, done that will make Silver Lake an even better place in which to live. Will we have enough money to address these items? That remains to be seen. It’s possible that sometime in the future we will either have to find ways to increase our revenue stream, or make some hard decisions regarding reducing spending.
2019 saw many things accomplished:
- Our employees began working under a new pay scale in January 2019. This pay scale more adequately rewards them for the jobs they do, and it does so at a level the Village can afford. It also helps discourage employees from leaving us, only to accept a similar job in another city because the pay there is substantially more. Retention of the good employees we have is extremely important.
- In a joint venture with the City of Stow, we resurfaced Graham Road, and removed the railroad tracks there.
- We purchased two vacant lots on Kent Road for the bargain price of around $14,000. Plans for these lots have yet to be determined, but two ideas being considered include either a retention pond, one which will help reduce the troublesome and massive flooding that occurs on Chautauqua Drive during periods of heavy rains, or a possible park at that site.
- We completed the Lee Road sewer project. This project will help reduce the injection of contaminants into the lake, as well as provide residents on that road with new laterals from the street to the laterals from their homes.
- We entered into a contract with EnviroScience to find environmentally sound ways to engineer the Englewood Drive improvements projects.
- Speaking of the environment, we also support the Tree Commission in their goal of preserving trees throughout the Village, and in their goal to improve the tree canopy cover for the Village. An ancient Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Even Warren Buffet realizes how important trees are, as he said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
- We renewed our contract with Kimble Recycling for five more years, and at very attractive rates.
- We built a pergola in the arboretum, and re-landscaped the island at Landon and Lee Roads.
- We entered into a four-year contract with Constellation Energy, one that sets our natural gas rate at $2.845/mcf; the lowest we’ve ever had. And, of course, if you can find a better rate somewhere else, you are free to opt out of the Village aggregation plan at any time, and at no charge to you. Be careful if you do so, however, because if you opt out, but then one day want to opt back in, your provider may charge you an exit fee.
- In October, we erected a new digital sign in front of Village Hall. The sign was paid for using money raised from the activities we held during our very successful Centennial Celebration in 2018. The sign allows us to communicate important news and events to you on a daily basis, just one more way we try to keep open our lines of communication with you.
- Like most public school districts, the Cuyahoga Falls school system has many problems with which it must wrestle. Our concern, however, is with Silver Lake Elementary School. What will happen to that school and that property upon which it sits is a real concern to us. While the fate of the school is largely out of our hands, the property is not. To that end, Council president Jerry Jones introduced legislation which clearly defines how that property can be used in the event the school system does one day decide to abandon SLES. The legislation prevents the school system from using it for things not in character with the Village, things such as a bus garage, or a warehouse, and espouses our belief that the best use for that property will always be what it is currently used for, namely, a school. I expect that legislation to be acted upon, and approved, very soon.
- The Planning Commission spent all last year, and even into this year, addressing our Riparian Ordinance. This Ordinance regulates what can be done with properties abutting Silver Lake, Crystal Lake and the Cuyahoga River. There were clearly problems with the Ordinance. It was very inconsistent, even illogical, in how it defined riparian setbacks. While the Planning Commission, representing the Village, and the Silver Lake Board of Trustees, along with some lakefront property owners, differed on many points, two points were common to both. Mainly, the integrity of the lake must be maintained and preserved, and the constitutional rights of property owners must be upheld. The Planning Commission issued a recommendation which, in my opinion, does both. This recommendation will soon be in front of Council for their review. Over the next couple of months, Council will examine, question, debate and evaluate the Planning Commission’s recommendations, and will then decide upon the riparian issue.
Many more things also happened in 2019, but I would be here all night trying to catch you up on all of them. Instead, let’s look forward to 2020.
- In 2020 I expect that we will continue to make progress on the improvements to Englewood Drive. That road needs curbs, sidewalks, storm sewers, even a widening of the road. The engineering is complete, and even calls for a green initiative, the establishment of bio retention ponds along the southern end of the road and around Randolph Road. The cost of the sidewalks and curbs will most likely be an assessment to the residents on the street benefitting from that part of the improvements. We are still working with Stow, hoping that they will cover the cost of sidewalks on their side of the street. Should they choose not to, we will not be able to construct sidewalks on the east side of Englewood Drive. We’ve also asked Stow to allow us to connect the northern end of the storm sewer to their retention basin at Wetmore Park. Doing so would help re-direct water from Stow that currently flows unimpeded into Silver Lake, and would greatly help our flood control efforts in that area. I relayed this information along with the engineering plans to Stow Mayor John Pribonic in a meeting we had last week. Stow is now reviewing those plans and will provide us with an answer sometime after that review is done. With the total cost of this project possibly exceeding $3 million, we will need to explore ways to finance it. But our treasurer is very resourceful, so hopefully work can begin in 2021, or at the latest, 2022.
- Also in 2020, we are looking to join with both Stow and Cuyahoga Falls to develop a bike/walk trail along the railroad bed that runs through all three municipalities. In partnership with those two cities, and with AMATS (the Akron Metropolitan Area Transport Study), this should be a project which we can afford, and one which will be greatly appreciated by many of our residents.
- Sometime in 2020, I will be asking Council to begin considering the construction of a sidewalk on the southern part of Kent Road from Thomas Drive to Church Street. We have a lot of people living in Colony Allotment (Thomas, Cranbrooke, Elmbrook, and Chautauqua roads) and on the south side of Kent Road; many of them are children. Presently, there is no safe way to cross Kent Road. A traffic light at Kent and Thomas would be helpful, but the repeated efforts that I have made with ODOT over the last several years to have a traffic light installed there have fallen on deaf ears. Residents living in that area south of Kent Road must now either risk crossing Kent Road at a very dangerous intersection, often during times of high traffic, or trudge through lawns, often through snow, mud and soggy grass, until they reach the traffic light at the Kent Road/Church Street intersection, where a safe crossing can be made.
- Another issue that merits discussion also relates to the flooding mentioned earlier that frequently occurs on Chautauqua Drive. That road is simply too low, a lake often forms, during periods of high rainfall, at a bend in the road there that makes resident access to their property extremely difficult. The road should be raised. Raising a small section of the road at the bend in the road that covers five lots, starting at 2981 Chautauqua will help direct water to a catch basin, and would be an immense help in relieving the flooding there.
- In 2008, we signed a 15 year agreement with Cuyahoga Falls to handle our Fire/EMS/ and Dispatch responsibilities. That agreement was one of the best ones we ever made. Cuyahoga Falls has been excellent in fulfilling their responsibilities to us, and that contract will have saved us close to $1.5 million over the life of the contract, when compared to the other offer we received. When, in three years, we again entertain offers for these services, I expect another equally attractive contract, possibly even a better one.
As Mayor, I get to speak with many of you on many occasions and in different venues. That is probably one of the biggest rewards of this job, and one out of which I get the most satisfaction. I am impressed with how much so many of you do. You have great jobs – lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, architects, homemakers, health care providers, carpenters, electricians. You work in finance, real estate, banking, construction, lawn care, education, medicine. You name it, Village residents do it. Yet, with all your busy lives, you also find time to do so much for so many. You enrich the lives of others by the things you do. Tom Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s tougher to make a difference.” Let me tell you who some of our difference makers are. Rebecca Brockmeyer is a difference maker. Her countless volunteer hours devoted to the kids at SLES is legendary. Don and Barb Dieterich have for many years given freely of their time to the Cuyahoga Valley Arts Center. Bob Zimmermann is a difference maker, one who works hard at preserving the history of our Village. Do you enjoy the car show that has been held in Silver Lake for the last five years, with another one being planned for this year? Thank Brandi and Scott Croghan for giving of their time and treasure to bring that to us. Have you noticed the newly painted signs for the Police Department, and on the post welcoming you to the Village? Thank Hank Gulich for making that difference. Making a difference also is Dave Barstow; he spearheaded the Pergola Project, and Richard Seeger who volunteers his time to help feed the homeless at a church in Akron. And there’s Mackenzie Marimon, who devotes countless hours to helping physically challenged kids. Through his work with Warriors Journey Home, John Schluep makes a difference in the lives of so many of our veterans. The members of the Garden Club for all the work they do to beautify the Village, make a big difference to life in the Village. The men and women who serve on our various standing committees, Park Board, the Tree Commission, the Planning Commission, the Citizens’ Housing Committee and the Board of Zoning Appeals are all difference makers, people who preserve and protect life as we know it in Silver Lake. I could go on and on and on. I apologize for not mentioning by name so many more of you who also do such great work for so many.
In conclusion, let me again express my gratitude to you for allowing me to serve as Mayor. This is a job I love, in a community I love. On occasion, various people will ask me why I like being Mayor. What’s so good about it? Isn’t the job full of complaints and headaches? Aren’t you disheartened by occasional attacks on your leadership and on your character? Well, the answer to both is “yes”. Some days are not easy. But these days are few. Overall, the support I receive from residents is encouraging, and substantial. The help I receive from residents, from Village employees and from Village Council makes my job easier than it otherwise would be. And it goes without saying, the advice and support I get from my beautiful and intelligent wife, Kathleen, keeps me focused and on track on how best to serve you. I really don’t want to face her if I screw things up as I govern the Village.
Neil Armstrong once said, “I believe every human heart has a finite number of heart beats, and I don’t intend to waste any of mine”. Well, I can promise you that as my heart beats in service to you as Mayor, there is no waste.
Thank you for your attention and your support. Mayor Bernie Hovey